Only the bitterest Grinch could dare find fault with any theater entity producing a holiday-themed play the month of December.
So, in the spirit of last year’s LAME (Lamentably Asinine Merrymaking Experience) index, meet the far-more-scientific (and two-letters-longer) CRAAAP Index, for “Christmas Really Ain’t All About Profits,” a (trademark-pending) scale that evaluates art versus commerce in holiday entertainments.
Basically, if a theater stages a holiday-themed play as a launching point into a stimulating, relevant or meaningful exploration of some dimension of the human condition, the effort ranks high on the CRAAAP index. But if the play in question seems like a cheap, shamelessly overt way to capitalize on holiday hysteria by wheeling out anything to entice Christmas-minded viewers into a theater, it registers low on the index (trust us: it makes sense).
Let’s use a film analogy: Bad Santa, in which thoroughly reprehensible character finds redemption, would rate about an 80 on the index. Anything starring Tim Allen? Somewhere around 5.
Following is a breakdown of holiday-themed plays on local stages, complete with official CRAAAP ratings.
(And in case you’re looking for the Weekly’s annual disdain-heap on the Crystal Cathedral’s ostentatiously offensive The Glory of Christmas, forget it. Thanks to their financial problems, the Schullers have to get a bankruptcy court’s permission to produce the show in this rotten economy. Oh, the irony!)
A Christmas Carol, South Coast Repertory
SCR’s annual yuletide cash cow marks its 31st campaign this year, and for the 31st straight year, it stars the indispensable Hal Landon Jr. as the towering archetype of cynical-miser-turned-lover-of-humanity. Yes, Charles Dickens wrote his 1843 novella expressly to make a bunch of cash real quick, and the story did as much to secularize the commemoration of the birth of Christ as any other literary work, but Jerry Patch’s adaptation really delivers on the gold in Dickens’ story: that we are all fellow passengers on the locomotive of life and our primary duty is to each other, not ourselves. CRAAAP Index: 81. 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org. Through Dec. 21.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, Chance Theater
Sure, this is a darkly hued, jaded look at the political intrigue and sexism behind the scenes of Santa’s transportation system. But though it’s an alterative to saccharine, cheesy Christmas fare, it’s still about that fucking Kringle dude. CRAAAP Index: 15. 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 777-3033; www.chancetheater.org. Through Dec. 21.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, STAGEStheatre
Yes, the source material is vintage Capra-corn, but the messages of anti-materialism and the importance of friends and family still resonate. CRAAAP Index: 65. 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-3384; www.stagesoc.org. Through Dec. 19.
A Queer Carol, Theatre Out
Joe Godfrey’s play sets Dickens’ classic novella in contemporary New York City. And everyone is gay! Scrooge is a tyrannical fashion designer. Jacob Marley is his ex-lover. The beleaguered Bob Cratchit lives with a partner, Tim, who is suffering from HIV. And, of course, Scrooge won’t offer Cratchit health benefits. It sounds a bit forced, but if you want a true alternative to a traditional Christmas offering, look no further. CRAAAP Index: 55. 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 826-8700; www.theatreout.com. Through Dec. 18.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, The Maverick Theater
Back for its fifth year, this spoof on one of the worst movies ever made definitely has crowd appeal. But while it may be silly fun, it’s a glaring example of a theater trying to make a few extra bucks by trafficking in insipid Christmas fare. CRAAAP Index: 2. 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-7070; www.mavericktheater.com. Through Dec. 23.
The Plight Before Christmas, Long Beach Playhouse
and A Christmas With Scrooge, Musical Theatre West
The first is a musical melodrama based on characters from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The second is a song-and-dance version of the same. Both programming decisions reek of brazen efforts to cash in on the popularity of the source tale without contemplating its more serious implications. CRAAAP Index: 5. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014; www.lbplayhouse.org. Through Dec. 26. Musical Theatre Village, 36 Mauchly, Irvine, (949) 753-1996; www.theatrevillage.net. Through Dec. 22.
Greetings, Camino Real Playhouse
Tom Dudzick’s play is about tolerance, compassion and the need to effect personal change through lightening the fuck up. Hard to argue with that, but this is less a play than an extended greeting card, and though it’s a staple on the community-theater circuit, it’s another example of calculated commercial scheduling. CRAAAP Index: 10. 31776 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 489-8082; www.caminorealplayhouse.org. Through Dec. 19.
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A Nice Family Gathering, Cabrillo Playhouse
Another popular play on the community theater circuit, this wields more bite than Greetings, what with a dysfunctional family meeting for the first time after the death of its patriarch. But it still sounds like something you’d see on the Hallmark Channel. CRAAAP Index: 20. 202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente, (949) 492-0465; www.cabrilloplayhouse.org. Through Dec. 12.
This article appeared in print as "The Reason for the Season: From Anaheim Hills to San Clemente, we rank the best and worst holiday plays this year."